May 01, 2017
The biggest winners at the NFL draft last weekend were not the hundreds of young athletes who realized their dreams, not the teams that filled major roster holes and not the army of planners who threw a spectacular three-day party in Center City.
No, the biggest winners were the sports fans of Philadelphia, who added drama and humor to the normally sluggish annual event and embraced their heritage in the process.
On a personal level, the incessant booing – sometimes with genuine rancor, sometimes with big smiles – brought me back to 1999, when I led a pack of lunatic Eagles fans into Madison Square Garden for our now-infamous tantrum after the selection of quarterback Donovan McNabb.
We have been ridiculed ever since then for our inappropriate behavior, so much so that all 30 of us have been banned from the draft. What the NFL learned over the weekend, however, was that we were providing a service, spicing up a dull recitation of names with some Philadelphia-style passion.
Eighteen years later, the 2017 draft became a special event for one reason – our fans. They exposed a surprisingly likable side of commissioner Roger Goodell, greeted the newest Eagles with our trademark honesty and inspired a new jolt of passion into the rivalry with Dallas.
It was no surprise that the fans opened the draft with a harsh greeting for Goodell – something he has gotten accustomed to in many NFL cities – but when the commissioner encouraged the 100,000 fans into an even bigger boo, it showed he appreciated Philadelphia’s fervor in a way he had never displayed before.
Of course, there’s always a humorless bureaucrat ready to ruin the moment, as NFL PR flack Greg Aiello attempted by Tweeting:
If those 70,000+ great fans in Philly like the Draft being there, they should cheer Roger Goodell. He's the reason the Draft is on the road.— Greg Aiello (@gregaiello) April 28, 2017
Geez. What kind of PR hack under-estimates the crowd total?
In any event, the fans were undaunted by Aiello’s brown-nosing, blasting Goodell at every opportunity for the rest of the draft – in a rather light-hearted way, actually. At one point, Goodell actually asked the crowd: “Just one second, then resume your booing.”
The commissioner wasn’t the only target. For example, Eagles fans made it clear they were not thrilled with the first-round selection of defensive end Derek Barnett of Tennessee, buzzing with a mixture of cheers and groans when his name was announced. No one was safe, not even the newest Eagle.
The best moment came on Friday night, when Dallas legend Drew Pearson arrived at the podium to announce the Cowboys’ second-round pick. After a blistering boo from the fans, Pearson returned fire with a screaming, adoring defense of his team.
Later, he confided on the NFL Network: “I loved it.”
Despite my ban, I was at the draft to do my WIP radio show Thursday and Friday mornings, and I was able to visit, up close, the statue of the Cowboys player that was stationed on the walkway leading to the theater. It was marred with an obscene sketch and had been used in countless inappropriate photos by Eagles fans.
One such partier, who identified himself as Kevin, called into the show to say his friend John had hoisted him up to the top of the statue, naked butt-first, to create the ultimate depiction of his disrespect for the Cowboys. The photo went viral. Kevin was proud.
Next year, the early favorite to host the draft is Dallas.
If so, expect it to be like most such events – dull and predictable.
There’s only one Philadelphia.
It is no coincidence that the arrival of Joe Douglas has dovetailed with one of the best offseasons in Eagles memory – highlighted by an extraordinary draft that brought two first-round talents and an array of other promising pieces.
Over three remarkable days, the Birds secured the draft’s best cornerback (Sidney Jones), second-best edge rusher (Barnett), best special-teams player (Mack Hollins), all-time leading NCAA rusher (Donnel Pumphrey) and the 2017 leader in Division 1 interceptions (Rasul Douglas.)
Is it possible Howie Roseman truly has turned over the roster development to someone with a far better resume?
Yes, it is possible. In fact, based on Roseman’s comments after the selection of Barnett, it has already happened. There’s no question that Joe Douglas, a former protégé of legendary GM Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore, was the loudest voice supporting the Barnett pick.
Douglas was with the Ravens when Terrell Suggs developed into an elite pass rusher, and the Suggs comparison to Barnett is a major clue on who wanted the Tennessee kid the most. Roseman was quick to credit Douglas for the endorsement, if not declaring that the new personnel director made the final call.
This is a huge concession by Roseman, for several reasons. First of all, he has always preferred the glitzier choices in the first round. Second, he had such a successful off-season last year – remember his maneuvering to claim Carson Wentz? – it’s hard to believe he handed power over to someone else. And third, no one loves draft day more than Roseman.
But, more and more, this seems to be a different Howie Roseman than the one who campaigned his way into the top personnel job in 2010, the one who made awful first-round picks like Danny Watkins and Marcus Smith, and the one who was exiled to the other side of the building after Chip Kelly’s power play in 2015.
Remember, the trade that brought defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan here last month from Baltimore clearly was also a Douglas move, as has been the team’s recent tendency to find big, physical players rather than former firefighters and skiers. In his 11 months here, Douglas is already having a major effect on the roster.
With Wentz as the foundation, the Eagles now have a chance to be exceptional – a playoff team in 2017, a Super-Bowl contender a year or two later.
If that parade ever happens, there will be more than enough credit for Roseman and Douglas to share.
Many fans were disappointed when the Eagles failed to draft any of the troublemakers like running backs Joe Mixon or Dalvin Cook when they had a chance in the early rounds.
I say: Bravo!
Make no mistake. The Birds did their share of bargain hunting, but the risks they took were medical, not behavioral. For example, Jones, a first-round talent, is recovering from Achilles surgery and won’t be ready for the start of the season, if at all in 2017. Jones was a calculated, and wise, decision.
Mixon will be more trouble than he’s worth. Cincinnati reacted to the Bengals’ second-round claim of the woman abuser (just check the video) the way Philadelphia would have – with horror. There are already boycotts being planned, amid an avalanche of bad press. Philadelphia’s shattering boo when his name was called said it all.
“It’s not really about winning anybody over,” the Oklahoma running back said after he was picked, reflecting once again his lack of contrition for the hideous act in 2014.
Cook was no better, really. The running back had a long list of missteps in his career at Florida State, including the abuse of animals. He went in the second round also, to Minnesota. There was talk that the Eagles were prepared to claim him two picks after the Vikings did, but there is no tangible proof of that speculation.
Let’s hope Cook was never on their board. Let’s hope the Eagles never again put the fans into the position of rooting for a contemptible jerk like Mixon or Cook. What I learned during the Michael Vick experiment was that, in the moment, I am capable of rooting for someone who electrocuted dogs. Even now, I think less of myself for doing so, despite Vick’s successful rehabilitation.
“We got a lot of good people into this building who reflect the values and culture … we’re trying to bring in,” said GM Howie Roseman after the draft.
Eagles fans should be delighted, and relieved, that things worked out that way.
And finally …
• The Flyers caught a big break when they defied the odds and won a top selection in the draft lottery, but now they need to turn that pick into something special. Picking at No. 2, GM Ron Hextall must find a franchise player, not just another nice addition to the roster. As a point of reference, Hextall might consider what the Eagles did with the No. 2 draft choice last year. They got a kid named Carson Wentz.
• Shame on ESPN for its heartless purge of more than 100 top employees last week because of a serious decline in viewership over the past few years. The real story is, the top executives at the overrated sports network miscalculated when they paid billions for rights fees for the top events. When will the bosses pay the price? They should have been the first to go.
• I hate to jump to conclusions, but is it time yet to wonder what the analytics geniuses in the Phillies front office were thinking when they assembled this horrendous bullpen? Closer Jeanmar Gomez had already crashed and burned by the end of last season, and yet the only moves were signing over-the-hill 39-year-old Joaquin Benoit and 36-year-old sidewinder Pat Neshek? Is it possible GM Matt Klentak and his minions are not so smart after all?
• Ed Rendell didn’t get his wish when Christian McCaffrey was picked before the Eagles had a chance to claim the versatile running back in the NFL draft, but the ex-governor and mayor has even bigger goals in the future. He said Philadelphia is pitching to host both the Super Bowl and the MLB All-Star Game in 2026, the 250th birthday of America. Sounds great to me.
• Mike Mayock, one of the few actual experts on the NFL draft, appeared not at all amused at the circus atmosphere in Philadelphia this year, even though he lives in the area. The NFL Network analyst finally lost it on the air when the league used an orangutan to announce a few of the picks. Whether Mayock was really upset or not, it was hilarious television, don’t you think?